Teneil Throssell, better known as HAAi, is the winner of BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix of the year 2018. Yet her musical background is rooted in an eclectic collection of "non-electronic" music genres. Growing up in a remote town, Karratha, in Western Australia, HAAi moved to London because of her previous role, in a shoegaze band. After the band split up, HAAi had gotten into Turkish funk records and other world music coming out from places like North Africa. Inspired by a chance trip to Berghain, and then honing her skills as a resident DJ at London’s renowned club Phonox, she has skillfully created a style uniquely hers weaved by her assorted musical taste with her love of techno.
The new EP Systems Up, Windows Down is reflective of such style: emotive basslines, rattling percussion, psychedelic synth work and abrasive noises roll through the expanse, delivering a tantalizing, multi-textured piece of art. An incarnation of her artistic evolution, it has a more mature, dance floor-focused sound compared to the last EP. "Sonically, for the EP, it was really like...doing a sort of exploration. Production to me, is something that’s moving on from the last EP I have done. It was more about getting a bit deeper into the program that I use and, I just experimented with sound and bass and stuff. That was really it, " Throssell explains.
Throssell has the kind of joyous energy that anyone can detect, even just through a phone call. She laughed when I pointed out the "Billy Madison" reference on the track title "Stop Looking At Me Swan" in the new EP — "Not that many people have discovered that so far, so I’m glad you did." In fact, knowing her music falls on the darker and bassier end of the sonic spectrum, she intentionally picked the funniest track titles to keep the mood light. "I kind of did the same with the last one. I think it's easy for me to get really seriously deep in music. And I tried to keep a bit of like, tongue in cheek. It’s important to not get too caught up in the moodiness of this," says HAAi.
When asked for a breakdown of the specific track titles, she emphasizes again that they don't have any relevance to the music at all.
"The name of the first track 'Don’t Flatter Yourself Love,' was literally an in-joke between me and a friend of mine, Daniel Avery. Every time we would have a conversation, we would tell each other to stop flattering ourselves. Just as a silly joke. And actually, it's his vocal at the end of the track and it's mine at the start. And it’s like us doing a voice recording to each other saying 'Don’t flatter yourself loves.''CHONKIBOI' just means big chunky dog, which has no relevance to the track at all. "
The title of the EP, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of her Australian roots. It harks back to a youth far from the club circuit in remote rural Australia where there wasn't a hell of a lot to do. Weekends were spent driving around town, along the coast and beach roads with the windows down while blasting music from car radios. "We would run our windows down and turn the stereos up, so we used to call that 'Systems Up, Windows Down.'"
Moving to London has allowed her "to be brave enough to experiment stuff as much as possible." It is also in London that she started Coconut Beats - a record label, a party series, and a brand that has a highly successful radio show on Rinse, then moved on to World FM. During her two-year residency at Phonox (which ended in fall 2018), Coconut Beats became a one of a kind club night there, through its "Beats of" series. She had invited various artists to showcase music coming from all parts of the world, from Brazil to Japan, from Israel to Turkey. The list of guests includes Gilles Peterson, DJ Nobu, DJ Boring, Red Axes and Mehmet Aslan among others.
The motivation behind the series is simply her love and passion for the specific sounds. "I guess it came from having a real interest in psychedelic music. Once I was in a position where I could invite people...because of where I was playing at the time, with their help, I was able to invite people whose records I had been playing for a long time. They could come to the club and play with me, and that is something I will treasure forever," she shares.
As exciting as it is with everything going on with Coconut Beats, HAAi has decided to put it on the backburner for a minute. As she is now playing festivals and shows all around the world, the next step of brand growth would require more energy than she could afford. "If I can't do with all of my beings, I think I should just leave it for the minute. Does it make sense?" she adds.
But that doesn't mean she is done with Coconut Beats, nor with the role of label boss. She is actually ready to start another label with the new sense of responsibility that came with her current BBC Radio 1 residency, focusing on "brand new, unreleased artists."
"Because I have a radio show here on Radio 1, I got sent a lot of music from really young producers asking for a bit of guidance and advice. There have been several times where I heard the music and just be like, I cannot believe nobody else has heard of this. It’s so excellent.' I would help as much in any way that I could, but that was very limiting. And I thought I could create something that would literally work as a platform for other bigger labels to hear, these kids' music."
Feeling fortunate about her experience transforming into a producer and the residency, HAAi underlines the importance of helping out each other in the scene — "If you get to a position where you can kinda help people a little bit more, it's important to do that, as much as you can." That is why the new label, Radical New Theory, will truly be a "from artists for artists" label, as it is instilled with the idea to "help people feel a bit more brave to try and get their music out there," through an almost anti-capitalism approach. RNT will have a single-base business model, where young artists don't need to stick with the label at such an early stage, but still benefits from the exposure this platform brings.
The first release of RNT will be coming out in January 2020. The bi-monthly release strategy would allow HAAi to touch on a variety of artists' music. Besides launching the new label, she also has plans for a North American tour next year ("which will be my first time that I’ve ever been to North America in my entire life!"). Watch this space as HAAi continues pushing the boundaries of sound.
Stream/buy the EP here.